Urban Fishermen (2002)

London is a noisy place. Living in the south of the city seemed to have a constant background wail of sirens, and now in West London it’s the planes that provide the audio wallpaper. In some cafes your cutlery literally rattles from the trains travelling above and below you simultaneously. It’s a world apart from the rural tranquility that I grew up in. When is why, when sitting on the top deck of a bus in my first week in town, I was suprised to spot an elderly gent sitting by the side of the road, fishing rod in hand. It soon became apparent that give a person a bit of water and the mere hint that it might contain something that swims, and they’ll rise to the challenge of trying to hook something out of it, irrespective of the noise and urban sprawl that might be surrounding them.

So, with A-Z in hand, I started to pedal my way around the little blue spots on the map of London. The Clapham Common ponds, the North London canals, Hampstead Heath, the Docklands, the rivers Lea and Wandle, Barnes duckpond… Not all yielded fishermen, but most did. As a theme for a photo project, urban fishermen were attractive for their complete lack of concern that what they were doing should appear odd to anyone. Water’s water – why not fish in it? You don’t need to be in the middle of Wiltshire – the important thing is the getting away from the wife, the cans of stella with your mates, the quality time with your dog, and the enticing hours of anticipation that there must be something in there…

And anyway, despite the gasometers and railways, there was the nature too. Not just the odd kingfisher on the river Wandle or the colony of herons at Walthamstow, but also of the more unexpected kind. The liberated terrapins lurking in the canal tunnels of Islington (once the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were no longer cool, kids went back to keeping hamsters). The goldfish of Clapham Common, won at a funfair, set free from their plastic bags, and now growing to legendary proportions (no one I met had caught one yet, but they were there all right…) The flocks of parakeets of Richmond and Bushey parks – according to one theory, escaped from the film set of The Africa Queen at Ealing Studios and now forming flocks of epic proportions.

I’m not so easily surprised by London and its inhabitants now. Scratch the urban surface and you discover that it’s just stuff built on top of something that’s been here for years and will probably go back to being that way one day. In the same way that plants can grow out of a chimney pot, fishermen aren’t easily put off what comes naturally to them.